Stricter laws are needed to protect Internet auction users from spammers who harvest e-mail addresses from auction sites, an eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) executive told U.S. lawmakers at a House subcommittee on crime hearing on cybercrime Thursday.
“It is worth noting that some forms of cybercrime could be reduced if Congress were to adopt a criminal prohibition against the automated harvesting of e-mail address for the purpose of sending illegal spam,” eBay vice president and general counsel Robert Chesnut said.
Such a law would “guarantee additional protection to America’s online consumers,” Chesnut also told the committee.
“eBay users are increasingly receiving illegal spam, from people who obtained their e-mail addresses illegitimately from the eBay Web site,” Chesnut testified. “These harvesters are building a growing and lucrative business by attacking popular Web sites with automated tools that suck in millions of e-mail addresses and spew them out again for use by spammers.”
Trolling for Dollars
Spammers often target auction sites for their data mining, or harvesting, activities because they troll for the e-mail addresses of individuals who have bid on products similar to what they are selling.
“This parasitic process undermines public confidence in e-commerce, feeds public fears about threats to privacy on the Internet and becomes a breeding ground for fraudulent conduct,” Chesnut told the lawmakers.
Internet Breeding Ground
Software piracy has grown exponentially over the last few years, due in large part to the Internet, according to Bob Kruger, vice president of enforcement for the Business Software Association (BSA), who also testified at the hearing.
“The Internet has exponentially expanded the market for pirated software,” Kruger testified. “Contrast the number of people who can crowd around a card table at a flea market with the number that can simultaneously access and download software from a pirate Web site. Instead of pirated copies being sold one at a time, millions of pirated copies can be downloaded every day.”
Kruger also pointed out that the Internet has made it easier for consumers to locate pirated software, saying that Web surfers can easily employ an Internet search engine to find both legitimate and illegitimate sellers of software.
Additionally, the Internet has made it easier for software pirates to hide, Kruger said.
Fear of Sharing
Witnesses at the hearing also expressed fears that under current laws, businesses could be penalized for sharing proprietary information with the government, by having it made public under the government’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“Information sharing is a risky proposition with less than clear benefits,” Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) told the Committee.
“No company wants information to surface that they have given in confidence that may jeopardize their market position, strategies, customer base or capital investments,” Miller added. “Nor would they risk voluntarily opening themselves up to bogus but costly and time-consuming litigation.”
Thursday’s hearing was the third in a series of hearings dealing with cybercrime. State and local officials testified in May on their cybercrime fighting efforts, and on Tuesday, witnesses from federal law enforcement agencies lobbied Congress for more money to fight cybercrime.
In addition to asking legislators for new laws to protect e-mail harvesting from Internet auctions, the business community is also taking action to combat the practice using existing laws.
In January, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) filed civil lawsuits against two software individuals who allegedly used data mining to obtain the addresses of auction users.
SIIA vice president in charge of anti-piracy Peter Beruk told the E-Commerce Times that the SIIA was contacted last year by people complaining that after they placed bids at online auctions for software, they were contacted via e-mail by vendors offering pirated versions of the same software at lower prices.
Funny, considering eBay has become one of the biggest spammers I know with their “Recommended” feature, which automatically sends emails to you offering other items if you don’t win an item you bid on.